Haters Gonna Hate: Dealing with Negative Feedback in the Social World

Submitted by Brett on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 4:45pm

By Carie Lewis, Director of Emerging Media, Online Communications, Humane Society of the United States

I sincerely don’t think there’s anything you can do to deter people from saying stupid and downright nasty stuff on Facebook (or any other social media platform for that matter). People are ruthless and this is where they go to say whatever they want. They think they have the right to be rude, hateful, and inappropriate. But at HSUS we decided that we weren’t going to allow that to happen on our organization’s page. And that’s why I think it’s important to develop a reactive strategy that works for you.

To determine a response, I generally look at 3 things:

  1. Tone. What is the severity of the person's tone - are they totally negative, neutral, seem like they could be talked to?
  2. Influence. How many followers, friends, subscribers do they have? If it's a blog, what's their technorati ranking? How many people are they really talking to?
  3. Frequency. Is this a standalone argument / complaint or does there seem to be a trend brewing? Is it the usual suspects or does this person seem to be gathering a following? I look at number of retweets, comments, etc.

Sometimes, we have no alternative but to delete a comment. Our page can get downright controversial. But as you’ll see if you visit our Facebook page, we don’t simply delete disagreements. We only delete violations, which are clearly laid out (see commenting policy). This has saved us so many times from accusations that we are censoring. (One tip: screenshot those things you delete.)

We also go back to the community and say, “we deleted x’s comment because it violated x rule on our commenting policy. Please be sure to adhere to the policy to make sure this is a safe and meaningful place for all fans. Feel free to repost your comments without the violations.”  The transparency helps build loyalty, and those people will begin to trust us and even defend us. People are free to express themselves on our page no matter what their beliefs are, but they MUST do it without profanity, personal attacks, etc. You get a warning (response) the first time, and the next time you get banned. Being strict on this has really helped control the madness.

Finally it is SO important to step back and separate yourself from the negative feedback, though I still find it incredibly challenging. Personally I get worked up when I work on dogfighting campaigns, being that I have a rescued pitbull. One time I told fans that this was a page for supporters of the HSUS, and the “unlike” button was right below our photo if anyone wanted to use it.

Although in my mind, I’m always thinking “if you don’t like us, why would you continue to be a fan of ours?” I have to hold back. Being transparent on social networks is one thing, but you have to control your emotions also. After that post and the negative reaction that came after it, I vowed to get my emotions in check before responding to sensitive issues. I will literally get up and take a walk before responding to something if it gets me riled up. Or, I’ll have another staffer who doesn’t take things so personally address these kinds of things! It may seem a bit extreme, but topics having to do with animal welfare can get very heated, so it’s important to take a step back when in that situation to avoid a community backlash.

Live and learn, right?

As Director of Emerging Media at The Humane Society of the United States, Carie leads social media and online advertising campaigns for the nation’s largest and most powerful animal welfare organization. Though focusing on fundraising and advocacy on a day to day basis, she particularly enjoys using Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare for the purpose of community building. As media is constantly changing, a large part of Carie’s responsibilities include evaluating new technologies and trends, as well as brand monitoring. When Carie is not sitting in front of a computer, she enjoys being outside with her rescued pitbull, Bella. Find her on Twitter @cariegrls.

This post was originally posted in slightly different form at http://www.connectioncafe.com/posts/2011/05-may/haters-what-can-you-do.html, with additional material from http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/08/social-media-anger-management-tips-from-carie-lewis-hsus.html.